From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Temporal range: Miocene – recent
Lampropeltis elapsoides.jpg
Scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Tribe: Lampropeltini
Genus: Lampropeltis
Fitzinger, 1843

Ablabes, Anguis, Bellophis, Calamaria, Coronella, Herpetodryas, Natrix, Ophibolus, Osceola, Phibolus, Pseudelaps, Zacholus[2]

Kingsnakes are colubrid New World constrictors, members of the genus Lampropeltis, which includes milk snakes and four other species. Among these, about 45 subspecies are recognized.


Lampropeltis includes the Greek words for "shiny shield":[3] λαμπρός lampro(s) ("shiny") + πέλτη pelt(ē) ("peltē shield") + -is (a Latin suffix).

The name is given to them in reference to their smooth, enamel-like dorsal scales.[4]

Their common name of "Kingsnake" derives from their habit of eating other snakes (such as rattlesnakes)

Range of habitation and morphology[edit]

Kingsnake species inhabit the Americas from southeastern Canada to southern Ecuador. The several species vary widely in size and coloration. Adult scarlet kingsnakes are typically 40 to 50 cm (16 to 20 in) in length, while the common kingsnake can grow to 1.8 m (6 ft). Some kingsnakes are colored in muted browns to black, while others are brightly marked in white, reds, yellows, grays, and lavenders that form rings, longitudinal stripes, speckles, and saddle-shaped bands.[5]

Behavior and diet[edit]

Kingsnakes use constriction to kill their prey and tend to be opportunistic in their diet; they eat other snakes (ophiophagy), including venomous snakes. Kingsnakes also eat lizards, rodents, birds, and eggs.[6] The common kingsnake is known to be immune to the venom of other snakes and does eat rattlesnakes, but it is not necessarily immune to the venom of snakes from different localities.[6]

The "king" in the name (as with the king cobra) refers to this preying on other snakes.

Kingsnakes such as the California kingsnake can exert twice as much constriction force relative to body size as ratsnakes and pythons. Scientists believe such strong coils may be an adaptation to snake and other reptile prey, which can sustain lower blood-oxygen levels before asphyxiating.[7]


Most kingsnakes have quite vibrant patterns on their skins. Some species, such as the scarlet kingsnake, Mexican milk snake, and red milk snake, have coloration and patterning that can cause them to be confused with the highly venomous coral snakes.

One of the mnemonic rhymes to help people distinguish between the coral snake and its nonvenomous lookalikes in the United States is "Red on black, friend of Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow." (Other variations include "Red on yellow kills a fellow. Red on black venom lack."[8][9] and "Yellow, red, stop!", referencing the order of traffic lights.) Both mnemonics apply only to coral snakes native to North America: Micrurus fulvius (eastern or common coral snake), Micrurus tener (Texas coral snake), and Micruroides euryxanthus (Arizona coral snake), found in the southern and western United States. Coral snakes found in other parts of the world can have distinctly different patterns, have red bands touching black bands, have only pink and blue banding, or have no banding at all.


Taxonomic reclassification is an ongoing process, and different sources often disagree, granting full species status to a group of these snakes that another source considers a subspecies. In the case of Lampropeltis catalinensis, for example, only a single specimen exists, so classification is not necessarily finite. In addition, hybridization between species with overlapping geographic ranges is not uncommon, confusing taxonomists further.


The kingsnake is often preyed upon by large vertebrates such as birds of prey. Tarantula spiders also sometimes prey on the snake.[10]

Species and subspecies[edit]

Mole kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata)
California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
Eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula)

Kingsnake species include:[11]

Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis holbrooki)

Additionally, Pyron and Burbrink have argued that the short-tailed snake (Stilosoma extenuatum) should be included with Lampropeltis.[12]


  1. ^ "Fossilworks: Lampropeltis".
  2. ^ Wright, A. H., and A. A. Wright. (1957). Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Comstock. Ithaca and London. 1,105 pp. (in 2 volumes) (Genus Lampropeltis, p. 330.)
  3. ^ "Lampropeltis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  4. ^ Tennant, Alan (2006). Lone Star Field Guide to Texas Snakes. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-4616-3564-2. the smooth dorsal scales have an enamel-like surface to which the genus' Latin name, Lampropeltis, or "shining skin shield," refers.
  5. ^ Powell, Robert; Conant, Roger; Collins, Joseph T. (2016). Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 375–381. ISBN 978-0544662-490.
  6. ^ a b Conant, R. (1975). A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Second Edition. Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 429 pp.
    ISBN 0-395-19977-8 (paperback). (Genus Lampropeltis, p. 201.)
  7. ^ "Snake Kills Bigger Snakes with World's Most Powerful Squeeze". 2017-03-15.
  8. ^ Life's Better Outdoors, South Carolina Department of natural resources Archived 2015-06-30 at the Wayback Machine (see FAQ's. -- "are there any visual clues"). Retrieved July 15, 2015
  9. ^ Medical-Surgical Nursing: Patient-Centered Collaborative Care   by Donna D. Ignatavicius, M. Linda Workman   (pages 141-142)
  10. ^
  11. ^ Genus Lampropeltis at The Reptile Database
  12. ^ Pyron, R. Alexander; Frank T. Burbrink. (2009). Neogene diversification and taxonomic stability in the snake tribe Lampropeltini (Serpentes: Colubridae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52(2):524-529.
  • Hubbs, Brian (2009). Common Kingsnakes. Tricolor Books, Tempe, Arizona

External links[edit]